How to Wear a New Hat

Faculty Guest Blogger: Ryan Ward

Ryan Ward:  You may be thinking to yourself, “If I make good artwork, then I will get into a gallery.” Hmm. Then you may think, “I will sell artwork at this gallery.” Uh oh. And then, “That money will allow me to continue to make my work, and I will be safe and sound.” At this point, it seems like you must begin to get real with yourself.

You have to come to grips with the fact that this kind of “art world,” statistically speaking, doesn’t exist. The notion of being “discovered” on the streets of New York by Betty Parsons, or a gallerist “picking you up” from your Yale University studio belong to a neat and tidy conception of the “art world” of the past. Now, art markets, job markets, educational systems, politics, and globalization have all joined to form a giant wrench that is stuck firmly in the gears toward stability and security. The idea of leading an art life seems more daunting than ever.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us with the need to recognize that we must build our own art worlds. There is not one art world. By staying up-to-date and actively engaged with other artists, professionals, and creative communities, you are able to shape your very own individualized art world—one that consists of many storylines. This is a refreshing thought. This relieves the pressure of feeling as though you must conform to a preconceived idea of existence as an artist. Instead, you can discover the support and the meaning needed to shape an art life on a unique and personalized basis. However, along with this recognition comes a new reality. You must now learn how to wear new hats.

I’ve tried on a few hats this past year and a half. With each new hat, I may have felt a bit tentative, but gradually, as time went on, the hats began to fit quite comfortably. The fall of 2015 and winter of 2016 presented opportunities to exhibit my work in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Jersey. The West Virginia “King’s Highway” project was a phenomenal experience. The first phase involved an installation and filmed performance in Philadelphia, PA. Then, as a follow-up, a similar version of the Philadelphia manifestation was constructed in a Shepherdstown, WV gallery. The West Virginia reconfiguration was the critical step; it highlighted a lack of reconciliation with its previous iteration. The exhibition aimed to examine the slippages that occur during the recollection of historical events. It looked at the flexibility of history and the impossibility of the human mind to retain narratives in a static, factual way. With the incorporation of installation, performance, photography, and video in this project, the challenges were extreme, as were the rewards.

In addition to organizing a Maslow Collection exhibition on form and structure at Marywood in the spring of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be able to curate a group of Philadelphia-based painters into a show called “CO-OPTIC” in West Virginia this past fall. To gather these diverse makers under one roof and under one premise proved to be as insightful as it was enriching. Here is an excerpt from the exhibition essay:

“We have to develop an optics,” Cezanne said, “by which I mean a logical vision—that is, one with no element of the absurd. To paint, is not to copy slavishly the object… it is to seize harmony between several correspondences, then to transpose them into a scale of one’s own and to develop them, following a new and original logic.”

…The type of description that kept Cezanne awake at night had more to do with pre-cognition than re-cognition. Merleau-Ponty points out that Cezanne “wanted to depict matter as it takes on form, the birth of order through spontaneous organization,” and that he, “makes a basic distinction not between ‘the senses’ and ‘the understanding’ but rather between the spontaneous organization of the things we perceive and the human organization of ideas and sciences.” Here, we can say that the step involving “re-cognition” is precisely what the word implies- a doubling back on cognition in order to name a thing in the world.

This past year has also produced tremendously exciting teaching opportunities. Aside from my role as instructor and critic in undergraduate and graduate studio courses at Marywood and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Mark Webber and I had the privilege of teaching a group of Marywood students in Vienna, Austria over spring break. We might have called the trip “From Brueghel to Balthus and Back,” in accordance with some of the highlights. However, these artists comprised a mere fraction of the beauty that was uncovered.

And now, this upcoming May, it is an honor to lead Marywood students back to Europe—this time to Florence, Italy to study at Studio Arts College International (SACI) for five weeks. I know the group is as thrilled as I am in anticipation of the artistic and cultural wonders that we will encounter. The David patiently awaits our arrival. So, keep in mind, if you are a Marywood student, there are still a few spaces available. Contact me at if you are at all interested.

Try on that new hat.

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